Here’s a story about small-town politics.
Crystal River City Manager Ken Frink announced his resignation Monday night and clearly it was unexpected.
In August, Frink will walk away from a $110,000-a-year dream job, managing the city where he grew up. No severance, no buyout.
He gave no official reason but it was easy to tell from the comments from some council members that they knew why and weren’t happy about it.
“It was like a kick in the gut,” veteran Councilman Robert Holmes said.
Talking with people Monday night at city hall, here’s what I gleaned:
Two forces, neither related to the other, are at work and created this scenario where Frink decided walking away made sense.
Force one is the bunch of rabble rousers I call the Library Guy Gang. Yes, I thought we were rid of those troublemakers following the 2022 election but it seems they’re only warming up.
Force two is Frink’s engagement to Councilwoman Cindi Guy, which I covered in a blog a few weeks ago.
Let’s go back to the 2022 elections. You may recall John Labriola, founding member of the Library Guy Gang, running for Inverness City Council and finishing second, only 39 votes behind winner Crystal Lizanich.
Meanwhile, in Crystal River, Cindi Guy decided to run for re-election and ended up with no opponent. It seems the Lbrary Guy Gang had a candidate ready to go but missed the ballot after getting the qualifying dates mixed up.
You may wonder why these folks would want election to local office when they really have no interest in the city other than to cause trouble. The answer: Library Advisory Board appointments.
Without getting into those old details, recall that council members from both Crystal River and Inverness were instrumental in blocking the anti-library crazies from being appointed to the county library board. In Crystal River, that was Councilman Ken Brown.
And that brings us to the Ken Frink/Cindi Guy relationship.
When I sat down with the two of them in March, Frink said they were looking to marry in August and that Cindi would be resigning her council seat before then.
The council would appoint a replacement and a special election comes about 90 days later.
It’s the special election that had Frink and others worried.
City elections have low turnouts; special city council elections in odd-number years have super low turnouts — 10% or less.
The concern is a Library Guy Gang aficionado, someone looking to cause trouble by dragging out the tired and untrue allegations about library displays, would get elected. Small turnouts — we’re talking in the hundreds — benefit fringe candidates because their friends show up to vote while most everyone else stays home.
Frink is not a Ken Brown fan. I don’t know the issues but they’re there. Yet Frink knows if a Library Guy Gang person is elected and spends his/her time going after Brown, that creates an unhealthy situation for everyone.
So Ken decided he would be the one resigning and Cindi will stay in office.
If you think Frink is being a little too dramatic, keep in mind this city’s history with managers. Prior to Andy Houston’s hiring in July 2006, the city had recycled managers at a frequent clip and had earned a reputation as place for competent administrators to avoid.
Since then, the city government has made a steady climb toward respectablility. Frink was hired four years ago and expected to finish his career four years from now at city hall; it wasn’t a hasty call to drop all that over concerns of a whackadoodle getting into office during a low-key special council election.
Guy, who coincidentally is seated to Frink’s left on the council dais, slowly shook her head as Frink choked up reading his resignation letter.
“I’m going to miss you as Crystal River city manager but you’re not getting too far me,” she told him. “The city is losing a gem.”
As for Frink, he’s a civil engineer so it’s unlikely he’ll go hungry. And don’t be surprised if Crystal River voters see his name on a future ballot for city council.
Giving the city four months notice gives the council plenty of time to find a new manager, and for that person to glean much from Frink.
Still, the move seems defeatest and leaves a bad taste in Crystal River’s mouth. While Frink’s decision appears to have the city’s best interest in mind, it puts the community on notice that not all is bright and sunny in their little town.
Politics is at play in Crystal River. Better pay attention.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.